My favourite monthly tag, hosted by Kate at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, Six Degrees of Separation #6degrees picks a starting book for participants to go wherever it takes them in six more steps. Links to my reviews are in the titles of the books. Our starting book this month is:
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Despite being a punctuation pedant (although I probably make plenty of mistakes too), I’ve not read Lynne Truss’s huge bestseller. I know she’s extremely witty, and I like the way she calls it being a ‘stickler’ rather than a pedant, but I think the book would enrage me too much after the first few pages of examples. So let’s leave it there, and talking of leaves, my first link is to:
In the Place of Fallen Leaves by Tim Pears
Slow to get into, but growing more rewarding with each chapter, this novel is the story of one long, hot summer in 1984 set in an isolated Devon village. Seen through the eyes of Alison who is 11ish, the youngest of her farming family, we discover all the eccentric inhabitants of her village, and how the unbearable heat and drought affects them all over this Indian summer. The prose, like the season it depicts, is languid and sultry and Pears describes the minutiae of this heatwave in detail without overdoing it generally, although the eventual rain does bring relief to all!
Fallen leaves happens even more in autumn which leads to…
Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym
This was one of Pym’s last books, published in 1977 a few years before she died; it was nominated for the Booker Prize. She was in her sixties, and the quartet of main characters are also in or nearing that age – I sincerely hope that her own life didn’t mirror those of Letty, Marcia, Edwin and Norman. The quartet all work together in an office in London, what they actually do is never specified. They all live alone in the London suburbs. What Pym did so wonderfully was to capture the vicissitudes of ordinary life in the 1970s for her women: those days when not everyone had a telephone, surviving on tinned food from the supermarket, and in particular, what to do with oneself when you don’t have a family support network. Although this was not comfortable reading, I enjoyed it a lot – probably falling between the works of Brookner and the best of Spark.
And following autumn comes winter.
The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne
This is the second of Thynne’s Clara Vine novels, featuring the half-British/half-German actress and spy set in the 1930s. In the first novel, Black Roses, Clara became accepted in the high social circles of the Third Reich’s wives. This was the story of how Clara came to Berlin to act in the movies, but got sidetracked into the Reich Fashion Bureau headed by Magda Goebbels and later became a British spy. The initial setting for the second novel is a murder at Himmler’s Bride School set up to train fiancées of SS officers to be perfect Nazi wives. Shockingly, it really existed – and you couldn’t marry an SS officer without graduating from the two month course. Also arriving in Berlin are Edward and Mrs Simpson, and Diana and Unity Mitford are already well entrenched. Clara will need all her skills to navigate in these precarious times. I read few historical series, but Thynne’s Clara Vine novels are superb.
A garden needs a gardener which leads to:
The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov
I still haven’t managed to read any more Kurkov, but did really enjoy this novel with its dark humour, post-Soviet comment and surreal elements. It involves time-slips courtesy of a vintage police uniform, retrieved from Ochakov by said gardener Stepan. When Igor puts it on to go out to a party, he finds himself back in the late 1950s at a wine factory with a mystery to solve. He wakes up back home with the uniform neatly folded beside him, and Stepan has disappeared. Igor must don the uniform again to return to the past, but the past is a dangerous place. I loved this book. The time-travel element was done so well. It was full of the black humour I’d hoped for, and the characters were certainly quirky. The contrast between the present day and the police-state of the past, with Igor as an unlikely police officer, came through more and more strongly as the novel progressed – but even in the Soviet past, there was room for con-men.
Kurkov is a Ukrainian author – I bet you can’t guess where I’m headed next!
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
This novel turned out to be a quick and easy read, full of characters who, while being all different stereotypes, were nevertheless mostly engaging. I found it hard to hate Valentina, the Ukrainian chav, and felt rather sorry for Nadia’s dad (who I envisaged as like the little old guy in the Simpsons); naturally the two sisters really irritated me. I would describe it as moderately chucklesome rather than hilarious, but an enjoyable read.
And finally, alongside a tractor on a farm, you’d probably find this piece of equipment to
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
This is a book I’ve yet to read, but it comes with high recommendations from many bloggers, and I can’t resist the lure of an existential thriller and Polish noir in which a sixty-something eccentric woman who is a William Blake afficionado searches for her two missing dogs and when members of a local hunting club are found murdered, she becomes involved in the investigation. This book has been moved into my bedside bookcase for #20booksofsummer21.
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My links this month have ranged over the turning of the seasons from summer to winter, and heading east into Europe. Where will your six degree take you?